27 March 2011
The town of Qena in Upper Egypt has become the first place in Egypt where Islamic hodoud ((specific physical penalties for certain crime, such as cutting a thief’s hand, stoning an adulteress to death and flogging an adulterer) are applied, apparently against Copts.
The Copt Ayman Nour Mitry, 45, from Qena, owns two flats in a building in the district of Masakin Othman, which he rents out. He rent a flat to a policeman called Khaled al-Sioufi, and the other to two young sisters Abeer and Sabrine Seif al-Nasr who come from the Aswan town of Edfu, some 80km south of Qena.
Our hadd; your law
The Salafi Muslims in Qena had recently begun harassing Mitry for allowing two women to live alone in his flat, and asked him to have them evicted. Asfour Wahib, Mitry’s lawyer, told Watani that Mitry asked the women to leave the flat, which they did. They left their furniture in the flat, though, as guarantee that they would be paying the rent for the last month, which they had not yet paid Mitry.
A couple of days later, on Sunday 20 March, Mitry received a phone call from Sioufi who lives next door to the flat the women used to occupy, saying that the flat was on fire. Mitry rushed to the flat while the firemen put out the fire, but several Salafi men attacked him, accused him of having had an affair with one of the women. They assaulted him while he was in Sioufi’s flat, abused him harshly and dragged him up to the fifth floor where they tried to hurl him down, but Sioufi was able to rescue him.
The Salafis then issued their judgement that the hadd (plural, hodoud) had to be applied. Using a knife, they cut his right ear, injured his left, caused a 10-cm long cut in his neck, and injured his right arm. They went downstairs and put his car on fire. Then they called the police and informed them they had applied the hadd against Mitry, and the police were now free to “apply your law”.
In the meantime, they had a neighbour named Umm al-Deeb who wears the niqab (the full face veil) call Sabrine and tell her that her furniture has been thrown in the street, so she naturally hastened to the scene of the incident. Once there, the Salafi men assaulted her and beat her until she bled from the mouth.
When the police rushed to the scene they caught Mitry whom they moved to the hospital. They also caught the young woman, who denied that Mitry had ever tried to approach her, and a claim was filed with the public prosecution. Sioufi testified in favour of Mitry. But, according to Wahib, no Salafi was caught.
Wednesday evening in Qena a reconciliation session was held between the victim and the Salafis to resolve the matter. This came in the wake of efforts by the local and political leaderships in Qena to pressure Mitry and his family to accept reconciliation. Participating in the session were the Military Ruler in Qena, the previous MP Gamal al-Naggar, member of the Revolutionary Coalition Mohamed Mustafa, Mitry and his family, several members of the clergy of the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches in Qena, a number of sheikhs, and the man who cut Mitry’s ears al-Husseini Mahmoud.
Usama Mitry, Ayman Mitry’s brother, told Watani that the Mitrys had to accept to ‘reconcile’ for the sake of the peace of the community in Qena, especially after the assailant apologised. Mahmoud said he had been misinformed about an illicit affair between the woman and Mitry, and had acted accordingly. Yet, during the reconciliation session, and when Father Hedra said that the attacker’s apology had been accepted, Mahmoud interrupted by saying: “I did not apologise and I did nothing wrong. I had to protect a Muslim woman; corrupting Muslim women is a red line.” Many of the attendants insisted Mahmoud had been misinformed, and Mitry had to withdraw the claim that had been filed with the public prosecutor, meaning he relinquished all his legal rights.
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar condemned the crime and offered to have Mitry treated at his own expense.
In the wake of the incident that left the Copts in Qena terrified, Anba Kyrillos, Bishop of Nag Hammadi called on the Military Council to put an end to bullying under the name of religion, lest this sectarian behaviour be mimicked in other regions. Intellectuals, rights activists and Copts also called upon the Military council to take strict measures against the occurrence of similar incidents, and to bring justice to the recent case.
As Watani went to press, word was circulating in Qena that the Salafis had warned Coptic women against leaving their home past 9:00pm, or wearing clothes that revealed their arms or legs. Those who did so, the circulars stated, did so at the peril of having their hands cut or being splashed with acid.